I took an overnight train from Rome to Venice, managing a decent night's sleep on the small top bunk, though waking a little at each stop. Early in the morning with a knock on the door the conductor let me know we were arriving in Venice (or so I hoped, with my limited Italian), and I switched to another train headed for Borgo Valsugana. The train followed a beautiful valley through the Alps, to the home of an old friend I'd not seen in 16 years.
Ivan Facchini was a foreign exchange student who lived in Haines for a year, my Junior year in high school. We became very good friends then, though have done poorly staying in touch over the years. He has since gotten married and had two wonderful children, all of whom I met for the first time when visiting his home town of Roncegno. He pointed out that when we first met I was 16, and so now 16 years later another lifetime had passed, and yet it felt like only a few days had gone by as we quickly fell back into our friendship.
The Facchini Family
From left to right, Ivan, Lorenzo, Marta, and Arianna. Both kids were initially shy around me, but that quickly changed. Ivan still spoke very good English, but the rest spoke only Italian. I practiced words and phrases out of my traveler dictionary, often met with entertained giggles from the kids who helpfully tried to correct my many mispronunciations.
This blurred photo is very appropriate for Lorenzo, as he had endlessly energy and was always running around and smiling. We quickly become good friends, and whenever I'd show up he'd run up to me and hug me and ask to be picked up. It didn't long for me to become very fond of him.
Arianna was a little more skeptical of me, but she also warmed up and was quite helpful in my attempt to learn a few Italian words. She had a wonderful laugh which she shared quite frequently.
The view of Roncegno (pronounced "Roan-chey-niaoh") from above, a beautiful valley in the Alps.
I was quite fascinated by this homemade construction of Marta's father. It consisted of a block of wood, a mess of looped wire, two holes, and a couple pieces of twine. With Italian and helpful gestures he explained how you placed cheese in each of the holes, tied down the wires with twine, setting a hook from the wires in front of each hole, then wait for the mice to chew through the twine to get to the cheese. Once they chew threw the twine, the spring action is fatal.
My buddy, Lorenzo, and I, playing after a large meal of homemade polenta in the hills above Roncegno. Marta's parents have a beautiful cabin up there, overlooking the town, where we visited one afternoon.
After a large meal, the five of us went for a beautiful walk on a trail in the mountains by nearby Borgo Valsugana.
Those peaks are a little over 2,300 meters tall, quite impressive from below.
Returning from our walk in the mountains, a view of Borgo Valsugana.
We all took turns playing on the teeter-totter after eating some Gelato in the park. It was a beautiful little park with all the toys quite sturdy and carved out of wood.
On the third and final day of my visit, Ivan and I caught a train to Venice. We weren't the only ones that thought it was a good idea, as the train was completely full, standing room only. About an hour into the trip, we stopped at a station and the lady conductor walked up and asked me if I spoke Italian, in Italian. I used one of my few Italian phrases to reply that I only spoke English. She smiled and replied still in Italian, "that's really too bad, because if you could understand me you'd know that they just added two more cars to the front of the train and there's plenty of room to sit up there." She then laughed and walked off. I of course understood none of that until Ivan translated it for me. We quickly jumped out of the overcrowded rear car and moved up to the nearly empty forward cars.
For the Birds
After half a day of wandering Venice, we stopped in a restaurant and had a tremendous meal of pasta and seafood. This little bird was quite brave, and even perched on Ivan's hand for a few moments to grab a piece of bread.
The Grand Canal
At the end of the day, we jumped on an overcrowded ferry boat and road back to the train station along the Grand Canal, thinking it would be quicker than walking -- we were wrong, missing our planned train by more than half an hour. Fortunately there were others to choose from. Venice itself is actually built on 117 islands, and is comprised of over 500 bridges crossing some 150 canals. The narrow winding streets are a seemingly endless maze and I was quickly hopelessly lost. Rising ocean levels and sinking streets cause areas of the city to flood on high tides during the winter months. Efforts are currently underway to complete some barriers that will close during the highest tides, in an effort to save the city.